Belle de jour

Belle And Sebastian. Photo: PA Photo/Soren Solkaer Starbird
Belle And Sebastian. Photo: PA Photo/Soren Solkaer Starbird

Stuart Murdoch is packing for America. He is, understandably, very excited to be taking a clutch of new songs and a new live show over there.

And then there’s the reception he and the rest of the band he fronts, Belle And Sebastian, will get once they’re there. The Scots have something of the cult hero about them on the other side of the Atlantic, and occupy a special place in the hearts of film soundtrack-compilers, appearing as they do on virtually every low-budget, wonky independent movie; Pumpkin, Juno, (500) Days Of Summer, and so on. Imagine Michael Cera pining after the girl of his dreams on screen, and a Belle And Sebastian song won’t be far behind.

Here in the UK, they’re hugely well-regarded and have been since Murdoch formed the band in 1996, winning fierce devotion from their fans, but it’s not the same as it is in the States. Perhaps we take them and their particular brand of lo-fi indie for granted? Or perhaps Glasgow, the city from which they hail, doesn’t seem as exotic when you’re only separated from it by a few hours on a train rather than, say, a giant ocean and long-haul flight.

Whatever the reasons for their fan base across the pond , Murdoch doesn’t want to question it too much.

“We’re more relieved than surprised, to be honest,” he says. “But we’ve been at this a while. We had various stages of surprise when we were a fledgling band, so now we’ve just tried to keep the quality up so they’ll keep having us back over there.”

He says the band, despite the numerous times they’ve toured in the States, still feel like odd ones out, but, as you might get from listening to his lyrics, he feels like that much of the time.

“We feel like odd ones out everywhere,” he says. “We’re not American, so we have that when we’re over there, but in the UK, we were never Britpop or anything, so we didn’t fit in with that and those bands that started when we did.

“We’re this indie, Eighties-influenced band that’s outgrown its roots. That’s fine, I think there are plenty of great bands in that position.”

Once upon a time, the band would bolt on extended trips around the US after their tours, but now, the majority of the members having partners and children to get home to, it’s a much more businesslike affair. It gets expensive too.

“There are about 20 of us travelling, so we don’t want to go on the road for too long. And I don’t want to keep those guys in luxury hotels for too long,” says Mudoch, tongue firmly in cheek.

Their forthcoming tour is in support of Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, their ninth album, released earlier this year. While there has been new B&S music released in the meantime - namely 2010’s Belle And Sebastian Write About Love - Girls In Peacetime marks the first time the band have been a “proper working unit” since about 2006 and they made seventh record The Life Pursuit, says Murdoch.

He has spent most of his time since then immersed in the film world, getting his debut feature film God Help The Girl off the ground. The project was initially conceived while promoting 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, with Murdoch having the idea of writing songs for a group of female vocalists, which then led into a full movie starring Emily Browning and Olly Alexander, who has since found fame as the singer in BBC Music Sound Of 2015 winner Years & Years.

After premiering at Sundance Film Festival, it was eventually released worldwide last year to warm reviews, and while it “wasn’t a blockbuster by any means”, Murdoch’s content his labour of love will have a long life on DVD and on-demand services like Netflix.

The project was exhausting, however, and the day after he’d finished editing, he was back with the band to start writing what would become Girls In Peacetime...

“I’ve done the film, and it’s amazing what a distinction there is when everyone puts the band first,” he says. “Everyone has their job and we’re all thinking about it all the time. We came together to write music last year, and it was most definitely more fun that sitting on my own, writing a film.”

In recent years, the band have gone from being Murdoch’s project, as it was when he first started writing songs in his Glasgow flat, to all chipping in with ideas and songs.

Back in the late Eighties, when Murdoch was at university, he was struck down with ME and unable to work for seven years. That’s when he dreamt up Belle And Sebastian, named after Cecile Aubry’s 1965 tale of a young boy and his dog, and started recruiting members along the way.

“It took a long time to feel like the band was going to be a career,” says the 46-year-old. “I was in very different circumstances in 1994, before the group got together. I was past the age I thought I would be a pop star or in a band, it felt more like I was writing my own obituary, really.

“I didn’t think it would stretch out past an LP and a couple of singles. I think it was when we got to album five that things settled down; we got a crew together and playing live got more comfortable, and we had a solid line-up.”

Not even winning a Brit for Best Newcomer in 1999 - despite the fact they had released three albums by that point - made Murdoch feel comfortable.

“That didn’t have much impact on me whatsoever, things were pretty tumultuous in the first few years,” he says. “We were thrust into the spotlight straight away, and people were still deciding whether they wanted to even be in the group.”

It’s a stark contrast to today, when Murdoch and the rest of the band’s thoughts turn to their sold-out show at Glasgow’s Hydro arena, their biggest headline show to date.

They’re bringing in an orchestra for the occasion.

“Now we’re playing on these bigger stages, I just want to get up and have fun,” says Murdoch. “When we were planning this tour, I said the first thing I want is a catwalk that juts out into the middle of the floor. If I can’t enjoy myself, no one else is going to, and that’s what we want.

“We want everyone to enjoy our shows as much as we do.”